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The secret ballot

  • November 22nd, 2007

 Yesterday I mentioned to the demonstrators at Parliament the correspondence between one of the founders of my law firm (Chapman Tripp) and J S Mill. I would quote from it for you, but I’ve mislaid it.

Among other things they were debating proposals for the secret ballot. Mill was anxious that allowing people to be secretive about their vote could realise the great fear of many democrats – that the majority poor would vote to plunder those with property if they could be irresponsible in private. On the other hand both acknowledged that transparent voting was influenced by the risk of retribution by the victor (and the losers).

Neither fear was idle. Argentina is a current example of a rich country made poor and violent by recidivist voting to plunder wealth. 

I’ve heard even Labour MPs admit that some privacy for donations is important if parties are to be funded. They treated it as an awkward practical problem, best dealt with by replacing all private funding with state grants. Thwarted in that, even the reported back bill allows some privacy in the new “donations protected from disclosure” rules. But it is not an anonymous donations regime (as the Dominion Post 20/11/07 might be forgiven for thinking).  Donor identity must be disclosed to the Electoral Commission (28B(3)) with no explanation of the purpose.

It is time to stop apologising for privacy. The secret ballot was introduced to defend people  against local oligarchs. It protected the freedom to support politicians without being targetted by vindictive winners or losers. It was an integrity measure.

Today’s commentators, deeply ignorant of history, have accepted the rewriting that  has tied privacy of political support to secrecy to sinister forces. It is ironic that more than a hundred years after secrecy was introduced to protect electoral integrity from incumbent power, none have dared challenge the corrupt incumbent’s linking of secrecy with the opposite.

Opponents of the secret ballot, when it was introduced in Victorian times, used all the ‘transparency’ arguments. It is revealing that those arguments have re-emerged to support the fascisti’s attempt to drive out of politics and political support, people like the EB, and now anyone else who might be vulnerable to their power.

The transparency slogan was accepted unquestioningly even by the NZ Law Society and the editorial writers who have seen the menace of the Bill. None have recognised that much of it flows inevitably from abandoning the old principle that lead to the secret ballot – namely that power is always abused, that people may legitimately want to keep their political views to themselves while supporting those who have the courage to engage in open challenge to incumbent power.

The last time this was important in NZ was when Muldoon was abusing his power. Now it is important again. The right to offer passive support without fear of the Police will be even more vital some time in this country. We are human, and there is no society where political power has not been turned to terror against opponents at some time or other. People have good reason for their wise instinct to keep your head down.

Our law should honour those who are prepared to stand publicly, and encourage their less bold but still essential supporters who would rather keep their political leanings private, but still want to participate actively. It can do it by upholding law that worked tolerably for 100 years.

Consensus on constitutional issues was a strengthening constitutional convention, until the  barbarians tutored in the student unions of the 60s  became drunk with power after 1999. They’ve become the ‘end justifies the means’ fascists they’ve spent so long looking for.


  • Edwin
  • November 22nd, 2007
  • 6:11 am

Well said Stephen.

I am not a lawyer, so pardon my ignorance, but could I ask your views on the changes of the bill?

Does it still use the extraordinarily broad definition of electioneering? Is this still an appalling afront to democracy?



The next post has my answer


This is a very important point. Many people are dependent on government goodwill for their livelihood. They either work for or contract to or are subject to inspection by an arm of the government.

Protecting your income is an enormous incentive to keep your support for the opposition secret.

Why should these people have to reveal themselves or be prevented from passively donating to the party of their choice.

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